Alexander Hamilton Papers

New York Assembly. Remarks on an Amendment to an Act to Empower Justices of the Peace to Try Causes to the Value of Ten Pounds, [8 March 1787]

New York Assembly. Remarks on an Amendment to an Act to Empower Justices of the Peace to Try Causes to the Value of Ten Pounds

[New York, March 8, 1787]

Mr. Harpur1 moved for a clause to be added to the bill, in substance, that no freeholder or citizen shall hereafter be imprisoned for any sum less than ten pounds, but that execution shall issue and remain in force against the debtor, till from time to time by different seizures of his effects, the creditor shall be satisfied and fully paid.2

Col. Hamilton confessed that his own judgment was not clearly made up on this subject. It was not however a new one to him, it was a question that had two sides, both of which deserved a serious attention. The clause as it stood, in his opinion was not proper; It might be right to say what shall be done in future contracts. But it would be wrong to meddle with the past. It was very probable if the clause was passed, it would prevent people in poor circumstances from getting assistance from the wealthy, this ought to be considered. Many a poor man who can be favoured with a credit of £10. finds a material advantage in it; if the security is taken away there will be an end to credit. He would wish that every man in distress should meet relief. He was willing to come into any measure that would effect this purpose.3

The [New York] Daily Advertiser, March 12, 1787.

1The reference is to William Harper.

2The Assembly went into a committee of the whole to consider “An act to empower Justices of the Peace, Mayors, Recorders, and Aldermen to try Causes to the value of Ten Pounds, and under, and to repeal the several Acts now in force for that purpose.” Harper made a motion that the following clause be inserted in the bill:

“Provided nevertheless, that no execution shall issue against the body of any Freeholder, or inhabitant having a family, in the county where such action is, or shall be commenced, upon any contract hereafter to be made; but the plaintiff shall continue to have execution against the defendants goods, until the debt, damages and costs are satisfied.” (New York Assembly Journal description begins Journal of the Assembly of the State of New York (Publisher and place vary, 1782–1788). description ends , 1787, 86.)

The motion occasioned a debate between John Tayler and Samuel Jones. Tayler objected to the clause because “he believed it would encourage many people to defraud their creditors.” Jones supported the motion and argued that unless it were adopted “an unfortunate debtor can be hurried away to gaol and kept there for so small a sum as ten pounds, and kept confined while he might have earned six times that sum if at his liberty.” Both Tayler and Jones agreed, however, that if adopted, the clause should be amended to refer only to future contracts (The Daily Advertiser, March 12, 1787).

3Harper’s motion was defeated. The act is printed in Laws of the State of New York, I description begins Laws of the State of New York Passed at the Sessions of the Legislature Held in the Years 1777, 1778, 1779, 1780, 1781, 1782, 1783 and 1784 Inclusive, being the First Seven Sessions (Albany, 1886). description ends I, 547–55, under the title “AN ACT for the more speedy recovery of debts to the value of ten pounds.”

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